Can relentlessly searching for “the one” ultimately leave you with zero?
Another fling has come to an end. Your bank account suggests therapy is not an option so you are laid on the bedroom floor. You have been on the phone for the last 3 hours and it burns your cheek as you listen to another one of your friends trash a guy’s haircut. Like, why would you even date someone with a mullet? Your mom thought he was too old for you, and your cousin three times removed, that you called God knows why, said men in business courses were a red flag anyway.
But as all the mixed reviews pour in, it hits you. Among all the rants and jokes you hear a common phrase – “You can do so much better”. And you believe them – you are in your twenties, hot, (mostly) trauma-free, and got a killer supply of puns… What a catch!
It’s not a wild concept to imagine yourself with someone who would really deserve you, either. You see it on TikTok (you know the 12 signs you can do better videos that always find a way on your FYP), forums where mid-aged wives cry over not dumping their asshole husbands when they still could.
And of course, let’s not forget the song lyrics in those “get over him” playlists you have saved on your Spotify.
Studies show that as the pressure society puts on young people to couple up dwindles, we are more willing to take our time in looking for “the one”. 40% of millennials say they won’t date someone wrong for them just to be in a relationship, while 66% of Gen Z accept that “not all relationships will be permanent” and 70% reject a “limiting romantic relationship”.
Our generation has seemingly taken a leap of faith towards a Hallmark romance, where “doing better” has become a mantra we rarely question. Do these rose-tinted glasses have a warranty, though? And how would you ever know if the clock is ticking on it? Now, I don’t mean to send you spiralling, which is why I talked to women of various ages about their search for someone more suitable. This is how it worked out for them:
“In my twenties, I was soaring in the clouds.” says Sharon, now 46-years-old, when recalling her first dating experiences “When I first started being interested in boys, I was around 15, 16. It was less me being interested in them, more of me being interested in the attention they could give me.
“My confidence would be dependent on how much attention I was getting, until the point I felt like the centre of the universe. Whenever I decided, I could maybe give them some of my attention back, since I was so obviously above them. At this point it was so ingrained in my mind that I could do better – by my friends and my newfound ego – that I didn’t even question it. I mean, everyone was being served to me on a platter, and if they weren’t – their loss! Later I would mature, I fell in love for the first time and started looking for a deeper connection.”
Getting addicted to romantic affection is not a crazy concept. Science has dubbed romantic love a “natural addiction” because it affects the same dopamine pathways associated with drug addiction, alcohol and gambling. And as with any other drug, the more and more you take it, the effects fade. Maybe this is why time has us build a more pragmatic, mature outlook on love.
“Many find themselves going from relationship to relationship, basking for a while in an initial experience, only to eventually feel restless, but long-time partners know that their one-on-one relationship must be guarded and enriched on a continual basis.” says Dr. Randi Gunther, a psychologist and marriage counsellor.
“There will always be someone better in some ways and less in others out there. What is more important is personal transformation so that each succeeding relationship is better. Who were you at the beginning of this relationship? Who are you now? Who will you become as a result of how you love and learn?
“Living a life of waiting and wondering if something is better out there takes energy away from creating the best your current relationship can offer.”
A study conducted by Vice shortly after the pandemic, made up of 45% Gen Z respondents, showed 75% were currently single and not dating, stating they wanted to take the solitary time to get to know themselves better before pursuing a partnership.
Taking time with dating undeniably teaches us as much about ourselves as it does about the people around us. It helps us establish boundaries, figure out our own needs and what we bring to the table. It is a process that can feel empowering, disappointing and everything in between – and sometimes, it is easy to lose the end goal amidst the flurry of emotions.
“Now that I am older, I have seen how it can backfire on you.” says Sharon. “Some of my friends went through that phase of thinking they can do better in a later period in life and it has lasted for years. It’s the reason a lot of them have remained alone.
“The fact that your desirability will inevitably fade is hard to come to terms with at a young age. At 20 it’s all Swan Lake and at 40 it’s the Dance of the Dying Swan” she laughs.
A scroll through the internet or a girls’ night out with your seemingly happy, coupled up friends shows that a loving relationship will not simply root the thought of doing better out. What was once an empowering, hopeful mantra to a proud single can turn out to be the Apple of Discord in a couple’s life.
“Even as a stable couple, there are traps that can lead you to think you can do better” says Willow, 19, when recalling her 3-year-long relationship.
“I would say when you are together for a while you start doing the same thing over and over again – work, see each other for an hour in the evening, have some dinner, go to sleep. And it’s every day – with me, the days I had off, my boyfriend didn’t so I would go out with my friends and complain about it. Some of them were like “Just get yourself out there, go wild, that lad over there wants to buy you a drink”.
“When you are young, no matter the comfort of the relationship you want to be part of that culture, of being wild and reckless, which doesn’t necessarily work when you have a long term partner. You want to live that single life of “I don’t care, I can go home whenever I want”, being your own person.
“It ends up with you distancing yourself. My gran always said never do things without each other – it may seem suffocating – the more and more stuff you don’t do together, the more you get used to being separate.”
Though the grass will always be greener and you might never stop thinking about how your toxic ex gave you 8 orgasms per week, unlike your loving partner who only gives you 6, it’s important to evaluate what really is important to you in a relationship. Is it intimacy, companionship, trust? And if you are getting all of that, why not put the effort into giving it back, instead of pondering the “what ifs”.
“Hope springs eternal but realistic people do know what they are worth on the open market and what they need to bring to a relationship that would make the person they want, want them.” says Dr. Gunther.
“My husband and I met at fourteen. We grew up off of each other. Many years of great therapy and lots of ups and downs. Much mutual and independent growth to continue to be interested and interesting. There were many times I wondered if someone out there would be better, but I was never willing to give up what I had. “
And while the thought of a soulmate or an effortless romance is tempting, it is important to go all Mythbusters on yourself. The fulfilment of a partner who is willing to put in the work as much as you and is ready to support you as you grow is undeniably more than you will get from that guy from uni with the fat trust fund who took you to fancy dinners, had a chiselled six pack, and no emotional maturity.
“A person who seems perfect when you are twenty may not turn out to be the person you need and thrive on the other end of when you are thirty. Younger people are not usually adequately formed yet in who they are to become.” says Dr. Gunther.
“Great partners talk about their feelings and people they have a yearning for openly with each other. They use those attractions to reevaluate their relationship. Were you to have a magic wand, could you conjure up a perfect person for you that would always be that way? That would mean you could never change, either.”
Edited by Audrey Chow